Is your anger style holding you back?

Anger is a complex emotion.   It is one of the first emotions that you experience and the one that is perhaps the last you learn how to manage.  In society anger is often seen as being negative, especially when expressed by women.  The fact is that whether you are male or female it is important to learn how to express your anger effectively otherwise your anger really can be responsible for holding you back.  There are many things that can make us angry, small things such as someone not doing something the way that you would do it to more obvious things such as a aggressive drivers or an unfaithful partner.

Let’s look at the function of anger, why do we get angry and what is the point of it?   Anger has a very important function in that it tells us when a line or boundary has been crossed and our rights have been abused.  Physiologically our heart rate increases and adrenaline is released triggering a fight or flight response -your body is gearing up for a fight against a wrong that has been committed against you, the effect of this means that you get a sudden burst of energy.   Finding ways of dealing with this upsurge of energy can be effective in being able to let the anger go and move on.  Exercise, screaming or shouting (into a pillow if you’re conscious of being heard), using a punch bag can all be helpful ways of expressing your anger and using up the excess energy produced by adrenalin.

Anger is often called a secondary emotion, which means that initially another feeling is experienced before feeling angry.  Such as feeling hurt, scared, disrespected, trapped, offended or pressured can all be present but unidentified,  as anger very quickly becomes the primary emotion that takes over.  In this way it can be seen as a protective mechanism that signals to you that a line has been crossed.

Displaced anger

Have you ever had a disagreement with your boss and come home and started an argument with your partner or shouted at the kids?  This is displaced anger.  Anger that is unresolved and unexpressed can come out ‘sideways’.   It can also be bottled up and suppressed which can sometimes manifest as depression.  The first step to recognising when you are angry is to notice the physiological signs mentioned above.  The next step in managing your anger is to take some time to understand exactly what you are angry about as it’s easy to react in the heat of the moment and regret it later.  Sending emails or text messages is not a good idea when someone has just annoyed you as you can’t take them back when you’ve calmed down.   Taking a walk or a day to give yourself space to reflect can be really useful in gaining perspective and helping you to identify how you are going to manage the situation and turn your anger into a useful ally.

Anger Styles

There are quite a few different types of anger styles but they generally fall into three categories; passive or aggressive.  If you don’t like expressing your anger or in fact can’t even connect with it most of the time, you fall into the passive category. If you are someone who tends to be quite passive when it comes to getting angry the chances are that you will resort to passive-aggressive tactics.  In other words you may often find ways of getting what you want without directly communicating it, consciously or unconsciously.

If you find that your anger gets you into trouble a lot due to the fact that you lose your temper or say things without thinking in the heat of the moment you are at the other end of the spectrum and your style veers towards the aggressive end of the spectrum.   Somewhere in the middle of this continuum is assertiveness.  Being assertive is the most effective way to be when it comes to communicating your anger to someone as it means that you will be honouring your feelings whilst letting the other person know how you feel without pointing the finger or blaming them.  It shows them that you are communicating in an adult way and that you want the situation resolved without losing your temper or resorting to underhand ways of expressing yourself e.g. revenge tactics.

Being assertive

The first step in becoming assertive is by recognising your present anger style – start by noticing the times when you do feel angry by being aware of physiological changes.  Also notice any underlying feelings and thoughts that may be present, for example, do you feel hurt or pressured?  What are your thoughts about the situation?   Then notice what you do with these feelings; do you tend to dismiss them and pretend that everything is alright?  Or do you recognise them but do something you know will annoy the person who’s made you angry?  Alternatively do you explode and immediately say what you think?   Be honest with yourself.

Keeping an anger journal can be useful in helping you to identify what your anger style is and the thoughts that are behind it.  Log the situation, your thoughts about it and how you feel on a scale of 0-100.  For example Debbie is angry at her boss John and writes in her journal:

Situation: “John is constantly on my case about this piece of work”

Thoughts: “why doesn’t he leave me alone?”  “He obviously doesn’t trust that I can get this piece of work done in time” “I feel like leaving”

Feelings: “pressured” – 90%  “angry” – 100%

Once you have identified what you are doing with your anger you can start to change it.  The next step is to tell the person who has annoyed you how you feel about their behaviour.  It may help to write down what you want to say beforehand and be sure to include how their actions have affected you, how you feel about it and what you would like to change.  This way the other person is clear about the situation and can respond accordingly.  When you speak be aware of your tone of voice, make sure it is not whiney and apologetic or aggressive and blaming but polite, courteous and confident.   Talking it through with someone you trust beforehand can be useful as they will be able to give you helpful feedback.

Using the example above Debbie asks to speak with John and explains that when John is constantly asking her about her progress on a particular piece of work she feels pressured, which makes it more difficult to complete the work in time, she explains that the more John enquires about her progress, the more pressured she feels.  She would assure John that the work will be done on time but what she needs is for John to give her space to do this.   By doing this Debbie will be owning her feelings about the situation whilst letting John know what she needs.

Being confident that you have a right to be angry at a situation or someone’s behaviour is key to becoming assertive.  If you are unsure if you have a right to be angry, check it out with a trusted friend who is likely to be honest and not just say what you want to hear.

Learning how to be assertive takes time and effort, after all you have managed your anger in your way for most of your life so it’s not going to change overnight.  The good news is that change is definitely possible; all you need is commitment and practice.

If you still feel unable to manage your anger and it’s affecting your life contact me to arrange a course of anger management sessions.  nicola@nicolacroote.com 07841 420067

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